In the community I was involved with in St. Louis in my pre-marriage days, a particular family hosted about 25 people each week for Shabbat dinner and I had the privilege to be their guest several times. It seemed to me that this family represented the epitome of the baal teshuvah experience: beautiful home filled with yiddishkeit everywhere, wonderful food that seemed without end, fascinating dvars, lively conversation. Both husband and wife came from very different backgrounds; she attended Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government while the husband lived a fun life in Brazil. Their adorable daughter symbolized the bright future that lay ahead for them, and quite possibly for all of klal Yisrael, so giving was their spirit and energy.
Almost every time I sat at their table, there would inevitably come a time when I would choke up and feel the tears gather in my eyes. A word, a song, a bracha – something would a trigger an emotional response, a deep longing, a feeling that this, this moment whatever it was – is what I want around my Shabbat table one day. The ease of the rituals and the deep knowledge of the parsha and the singing seemed so authentic to me, and just made me feel like I still had so far to go. The moment would sear itself into my mind and amidst the joyful talk with the 25 guests, I felt alone and lonely. I visualized my future family and wondered if I would ever have this.
And then a car alarm went off. A car alarm – outside the rabbi’s house! During Shabbat dinner! Shattering my deep thoughts – breaking the moment – and the sudden realization that it was MY car alarm waking up the neighborhood! I ran to my purse and fumbled for the keys, so embarrassed. Why oh why would my car alarm go off and ruin this amazing Shabbat spirit? The wonderful hosts, the understanding guests – everyone laughed it off and forgot about it.
I went back to the guests, back to the meal, joining in the conversation. “Getting there” doesn’t just happen overnight – it takes work and study and commitment! I’ve succeeded at everything else in the world, so why shouldn’t I succeed in this most-important challenge and holiest of goals? Besides, I’m a decent cook, at least I have a head start in that regard.
Then my car alarm went off again.
I’ve still got a long road ahead of me.